posted by Jeremy Wells on Tue 8th Feb 2005 08:05 UTC
IconFor over six years I have been hunting for a Linux distro that would allow me to replace my Windows installation. I've tried many versions of RedHat and Mandrake, and more recently, Gnoppix, Kanotix, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Knoppix. In my evaluations, I would start with high hopes that the latest and greatest distro would install smoothly, support my hardware, and create a genuinely usable system, but none of them really worked--until now. I recently came across the first distro that satisfied all my requirements: Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a recent distribution that is based on Debian unstable. From reading many online posts, it appears that a large number of Debian developers are Ubuntu users. From most perspectives, Ubuntu is Debian, but with added improvements and more testing.

Selection Criteria

My "perfect" Linux distribution would be completely open source, professional in appearance, have good laptop support, and be simple and clean. For example, Xandros, Linspire, and Lycoris appear to provide a good user experience, decent hardware compatibility, and technical support, but rely on proprietary software to achieve their goals. Many distros feature cute cartoons and inspired imagery, but while a cute cartoon image of a shark is fine for friends and family, it sends the wrong message in a professional crowd (I won't even get into the distros that prominently feature cannabus sativa). Unfortunately, laptop support is fatally flawed in the current 2.6 kernel because of a buggy ACPI implementation, but few distributions seem to take the time to get the available working drivers/modules/daemons to work correctly (such as APM). More often than not, the end user is left to configure many laptop support options. Lastly, Gnome's approach to the desktop is better in my opinion because it emphasizes usability and simplification (a la the Mac) rather than the cluttered, sickeningly sweet, drippy, transparent eye Kandy of KDE.

Hardware

I installed Ubuntu 4.10 - Warty on an IBM Thinkpad T21 with 384 megs of RAM and a NEC 6500A DVD-writer that I recently installed in place of the stock DVD-ROM. The graphics controller is a S3 Savage/IX-MV which is known to have bugs. Windows 2000 and XP runs fine on this laptop with complete and working support for ACPI. The processor is an 800 Mhz mobile Pentium III. The laptop also has a Winmodem, but since I never use it, it didn't bother me that it would be rather unlikely that Ubuntu would support it without additional configuration.

ACPI support in the current 2.6 kernel does not work on the T21 (or many other laptops for that matter). While sleep (and possibly suspend) do work, the integrated 3Com 3c556B Ethernet controller does not work under ACPI. For the most part, the laptop will work with APM under the 2.6 kernel, however.

Installation

Like many distributions, installation went smoothly. Note that because of the aforementioned ACPI bug, Ubuntu must be booted with "linux acpi=off" at the boot command line. Ubuntu correctly detected all of the T21's hardware (except possibly for the Winmodem). Amazingly, my Epson 610 scanner and Olympus C3000z digital camera were also detected and worked correctly and--most importantly--worked without having to be root (unlike some distributions). My new NEC DVD-writer also worked correctly.

Tweaking

Unfortunately, tweaking was necessary before all was well on the laptop. I do not fault Ubuntu as most other distributions required the same changes. APM support had to be enabled by adding "apm" at the end of the /etc/modules file. In order to squelch the S3 Savage IX bug, the option "ShadowStatus" needed to be added to the "Device" section in the /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 file (failure to do so will result in random freezes when scrolling). I also needed to add the option "HWCursor" followed by "false" to the X11 configuration file in order to stop the "X" cursor that appears upon loading Gnome from remaining on the screen as a visual artifact.

Apparently, the IPv6 code in the 2.6 kernel is also somewhat buggy. There were long delays in name resolution when using Firefox. In order to fix this, I had to disable IPv6 support in the /etc/modprobe.conf file by adding the line "alias ipv6 off" followed by another line, "alias net-pf-10 off".
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